Foods that Fight Seasonal Allergies

 

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Ok folks, spring is almost here and I don't know about you, but I couldn't be more ready. I'm counting the days until I can bust out my new sundresses and sandals because honestly, sweaters and boots are cute for the first few weeks of fall, but they get boring fast, right?

The only thing I'm not looking forward to this spring is allergies. Once that pollen starts to spread, my eyes get so red I look like I've either been chopping onions or watching on repeat that scene in Ghost where Patrick Swayze finally becomes visible to Demi Moore and tells her how his love for her lives on after death. This is why the first movies Netflix recommends for me are "Emotional Dramas"...followed by "Sentimental Comedies." I cry every time I see that Folger's commercial where the brother unexpectedly comes home for Christmas and his sister says something like, "My present this year is you."   It really tugs at the heartstrings.

Anyway, in an effort to head off the red, itchy eyes this year, I interviewed Dr. Kelly Han, ND, who practices at Walnut Creek Naturopathic, about foods that can help to mitigate seasonal allergies - and those that might make them worse. Why is this important - why not just get a prescription? Well, taking something like Claritin just masks the symptoms of allergies, but working with your diet can actually get to the root causes.


Food Elimination

According to Dr. Han, the first place to start for many people might be to experiment with eliminating foods that can exacerbate overall inflammation in the body. The most common triggers, she says, are wheat, sugar and dairy.

"If somebody is a chronic allergy sufferer, I usually start with eliminating or greatly reducing their intake of those foods, and that right there will decrease inflammation significantly and decrease their likelihood of experiencing allergy symptoms," she said.

If you decide to go this route, check out Nourished Kitchen for some amazing grain-free and sugar-free recipes. I occasionally post similar recipes on my blog, Real Food Underground, as well.


Fruits and Veggies

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I think the only thing that might pack more nutritional power than fruits and veggies is that lembas bread Frodo gets from the elves. But if you can't get your hands on a loaf of that stuff, Dr. Han recommends fruits and veggies that decrease inflammation and   promote antihistamine and antioxidant effects and immune support.

First, she suggests increasing your intake of foods high in vitamin C, including citrus fruits. Vitamin C, of course, helps to strengthen immune support. She also recommends including in your diet a range of colorful, diverse fruits and vegetables.

In addition, she says fruits and veggies are beneficial for allergy sufferers because they contain high levels of bioflavanoids which are phytonutrients considered to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. When it comes to allergies, Dr. Han says the most beneficial bioflavaoid is quercetin, which can be found in dark berries, onions, and apples. It's also present in most colorful fruits and vegetables, she said.


Essential Fatty Acids

I think most of us have heard about the many benefits of essential fatty acids. Turns out, they're great for allergies, too.

"The omega-3's,-6's and -9's are directly anti-inflammatory in the body," Dr. Han said.

Ways to get those in your diet include nuts and seeds, cold water fish, avocadoes, coconut milk and oils like olive oil and sesame oil. Ok, who else could really go for some guacamole?


Probiotics

Photo courtesy 123RF.com.

Photo courtesy 123RF.com.

If you've heard much about probiotics, you're probably aware of their ability to improve digestive health. But according to Dr. Han, probiotics also promote immune support.

If you've seen that Activia commercial with Jamie Lee Curtis, you know that yogurt is a good source of probiotics (though you'll probably want to choose a higher quality yogurt than Activia). Although dairy is a common allergen, many people who have trouble digesting lactose can tolerate yogurt because it's cultured. The live cultures create the enzymes that lactose-intolerant people lack, making it easier for them to digest the lactose.

Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are good sources of probiotics, as well


Local Honey and Spices

Though there's not as much science to back it yet, local honey is often used to combat seasonal allergies. Honey has immune-stimulating and anti-inflammatory properties, Dr. Han said. And the thinking is that local honey contains very small amounts of local pollen and, like a vaccine, a small dose in your body will prompt a healthy response to the irritant, Dr. Han said.

"I haven't seen much in terms of the research necessarily, but I have heard clinically and anecdotally that local honey does work very well for people, especially when used in combination with some of these other recommendations," she said.

Some spices have anti-inflammatory effects, as well. Dr. Han recommends tumeric and ginger.


Supplements

In addition to working with your diet, natural supplements can be helpful in fighting allergies, too, Dr, Han said. Vitamin C, quercetin and essential fatty acids can all be found in supplement form. Herbal supplements like nettles and euphrasia are also beneficial, she said.

Often, working with your diet and with supplements to address an issue like seasonal allergies can be a doorway that leads to working with your health on a deeper level through naturopathic medicine.

"I've found that working with the diet is really important. But going even further than that, you'll want to look at your digestion and your ability to digest and absorb all of the good properties from your food at your maximum capacity. So when you work with your diet, both adding and eliminating foods, a lot of times that leads you to naturopathic medicine," she said.